Guilty Verdicts In Buffalo Billion Case

The former top official at SUNY Polytechnic on Thursday was found guilty on fraud and corruption charges in a case stemming from a signature economic development initiative backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Alain Kaloyeros, the former SUNY Poly president, as well as prominent upstate developers Steven Aiello, Joseph Girardi and Louis Ciminelli were found guilty on all counts of corruption after two days of jury deliberations.

The charges centered aroundfederal prosecutors accusing Kaloyeros and developers of conspiring to rig contracts for lucrative economic development projects in western New York.

Cuomo had sought to inject state money into western New York, an effort known as the Buffalo Billion, in order to revive what had been a decades-long moribund economy with little job growth.

The effort, however, led to the indictment of Kaloyeros, a key official who developed a nanotechnology facility in Albany and its success became the envy of other regions in upstate New York. The success of the college was so massive that it led to a laudatory visit from President Obama in 2012.

Earlier this year, Joe Percoco, a former close aide to Cuomo, was found guilty of bribery charges as well in a case that had cleaved off of the Buffalo Billion trial.

Overall, the cases added to the perception of a state government awash in corruption — a difficult perception for incumbents in an election year. All four men are due to be sentenced in mid-October, several weeks before the general election in November.

“Scandals that have ripped through the Legislature and toppled top aides to the governor. New Yorkers deserve better,” said Blair Horner, the legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “Gov. Cuomo must immediately convene a Special Session to address Albany’s Watergate moments.”

Addressing Albany’s myriad corruption cases have come in fits and starts. Ethics reforms measures have been approved in virtually every other legislative session since Cuomo has taken office.

But bills that would address some of the factors that allowed the Buffalo Billion charges in the first place — creating new transparency methods for contracts, restoring oversight powers to the state comptroller — were not approved in the Democratic-led state Assembly.

Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office brought the charges during his tenure there, praised the prosecutors on the case.

“All four Buffalo Billion defendants guilty on all counts,” he wrote on Twitter. “Congratulations to the team at SDNY for continuing to strike big blows against corruption in New York State.”

Airbnb Launches Ad Campaign

From the Morning Memo:

As the online rental firm Airbnb faces the potential of new regulatory requirements in New York City, the company on Monday is launching an ad campaign.

One ad focuses on an Airbnb host and mother in Brooklyn, who credits the company with helping “sustaining herself” in New York by being able to share her home.

In another ad, which also features the same woman, questions the regulatory oversight of the company by New York City.

The ads come as the New York City Council is considering legislation would require home-sharing firms like Airbnb to provide regulators with addresses of their listings.

The concern for Airbnb, and potentially its hope for its opponents, is the lists could show whether the online home sharing is leading to rent-regulated units becoming money makers for hosts.

The state Legislature in 2016 previously blocked the advertising of short-term rentals online, a move that company opposed. At the same time, similar efforts to bolster reporting of online home sharing have faltered at the state level.

NY-19: Faso Asks, Delgado Answers

The battle over the future of ICE has come to NY-19.

Republican Rep. John Faso’s campaign manager Tom Szymanski posted a statement earlier this week on Faso’s Facebook page asking if the congressman’s Democratic challenger, Antonio Delgado, supports the call by his fellow Democrats for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency to be abolished.

Several high profile New York Democrats have already jumped on board calling for the agency’s end, most recently, Queens Democrat Sen. Mike Gianaris.

The Republicans, led by President Donald Trump, have leapt to ICE’s defense, with some predicting that this issue will help the GOP preserve its control of Congress in the upcoming midterm elections.

“The service that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement provides in keeping our communities safe is invaluable, and it is disturbing to hear elected Democrats and Democratic candidates for office calling to abolish ICE,” Szymanski wrote.

Szymanski singled out a number of prominent Democrats, including NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, and recently victorious NY-14 candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as well as “other fellow-Progressives on the loony left by wishing to abolish ICE,” adding: “Voters deserve to know whether Mr. Delgado will work to abolish the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

This morning, Delgado responded with a statement of his own, and suggested that in the future, Faso contact him directly and not resort to using an intermediary to handle his inquiries.

“Congressman Faso should feel free to contact me directly with his inquiries about my positions,” Delgado said. “I would be happy to exchange cell phone numbers so that he does not need his staffer to send out statements written by (House Speaker) Paul Ryan. I am eager to discuss our country’s immigration policies and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with the Congressman.”

He added: “Spoiler alert: I do not support abolishing ICE.”

Delgado also took the opportunity to criticize Faso’s voting record on healthcare, and noted his relationship with Ryan, who is not seeking re-election this fall.

Faso has received fundraising assistance from the Congressional Leadership Fund. Protecting the freshman congressman in the battle for NY-19, which has changed political hands several times in recent election cycles, is of particular interest to Republicans as they try to maintain their majority.

Ryan has also appeared at past fundraisers in support of Faso, who is seeking a second term.

Ticket Consumer Protections Signed Into Law

Ticket consumers scored a win on Sunday after Governor Cuomo signed legislation into law that safeguards ticket purchasers against price gauging and misrepresentation of ticket resale.

The Governor’s okay of S8501B re-ups market protections for purchasers of entertainment and sporting event tickets that would have expired on June 30th.

The law adds a protective layer to a section of the state’s arts and cultural affairs law, thus strengthening seller to purchaser transparency.

Bill sponsor State Senator Terrance Murphy said, “Any hardworking New Yorker who purchases a ticket to the world class entertainment and sporting events in our state should never fear being ripped off. This law provides consumers with the confidence and peace of mind that when they are purchasing tickets to see a Broadway show, a ballgame, or a musical performance, they will not be scammed. I thank Governor Cuomo for signing my legislation into law to protect the integrity of this industry.”

Retailers will be required to clearly display seller licenses on sites, list original ticket purchase price separate from any surcharge or added service fee and conspicuously detail refund policies.

Penalties and even the loss of a seller’s license for sites using bot technology—or purchasing software designed to buy up large amounts of tickets for the purpose of resale—will now be in place.

PEF’s Spence Re-Elected

The president of the state’s second-largest public workers union secured re-election on Tuesday, the union said in a statement.

Public Employees Federation President Wayne Spence was handed a second term by the labor organization’s rank-and-file members, receiving 6,3446 votes to Maureen Kellman’s 2,066 votes. Kevin Hintz received 1,438 votes.

The union represents mostly white-collar workers.

“I am humbled and grateful that PEF members saw fit to return me to office and look forward to working with PEF’s newly elected team to build on the many successes achieved during my first term as PEF president,” Spence said in a statement. “Now, with a cohesive team in place, we are more committed than ever to building a stronger union together.”

Spence’s hand as leader was further strengthened as his slate, running on the Members’ Voice, won the top elected posts at the union.

Primary Day In New York, Part One

Former the Morning Memo:

Voters head to the polls today for primary contests in Long Island, New York City, the Hudson Valley, the North Country, central and western New York.

But the races are more than just geographical diversity. In most cases, the candidates are largely running on similar platforms, forcing voters to pick based on personality, name recognition or on strength of national party backing.

In other instances, incumbents are facing tests from their ideological left flank, with Rep. Joe Crowley, considered a potential Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, who faces Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

On Staten Island, the power of an endorsement from President Donald Trump is once again being tested in the primary between Rep. Dan Donovan and ex-Rep. Michael Grimm. Trump and the Republican establishment is backing the incumbent Donovan over Grimm, who lost his job in Congress after pleading guilty to a tax evasion charge.

It’s tempting to draw conclusions from today’s results — the strength of progressive voters, the turnout of Democrats in key battleground races, whether Trump can push Republicans to the polls for his preferred candidate or if the recent tumult in the news, like the administration’s family separation policies, will play much of a factor in driving voters to the polls.

But New York’s weird election laws make that difficult to do.

The state is unique for its duel primaries: Voters are only considering congressional races today, with state and local races decided on Sept. 13, a Thursday. The state also has closed primaries, meaning only those enrolled in a party can vote today.

That is a formula for low turnout, generally speaking, and makes it difficult to assess whether a “blue wave” is cresting for Democrats in the 19th congressional district or in the 21st House seat.

If Crowley wins, does this deflate the push by the progressive wing of the party to challenge incumbents like Gov. Andrew Cuomo? If Grimm wins, what does this mean for the Staten Island House seat Democrats have flirted with trying to take back? Will Democrats try to nominate someone with money and name recognition in the North Country — a candidate like Dylan Ratigan — or will they support someone who has been in the race far longer?

Right now, it’s more questions than answers, many of which can’t really be decided until much deeper into the election cycle.

Miner Picks GOP Mayor As Running Mate

Former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner has selected a Republican mayor from Westchester County to run as her running mate in her independent bid for governor.

Miner will run with Pelham Mayor Michel Volpe on the Serve America Movement ticket.

Miner, a Democrat and former mayor of Syracuse, said in a statement on Monday the ticket will help “build a new movement around shared principles, and return civil discourse and rational public policy to state government.”

“Michael is a true public servant who has demonstrated real leadership by listening to his community and following-through with nonpartisan solutions,” Miner said. “I am honored that Michael has joined our effort and am excited for the rest of New York to get to know my friend and partner in this endeavor.”

Miner selection of a Republican to run for lieutenant governor may be eyebrow-raising to some, considering she is a former state Democratic Committee co-chair. But her campaign has sought to strike a bipartisan, moderate balance when it comes to its platform.

“When I first ran for office, I did so in a way that transcended party politics,” said Volpe. “What I quickly learned is that real people didn’t care about partisan labels – they just want honest, transparent, reliable government.”

Volpe is not the only Westchester County resident on a gubernatorial ticket. Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro is running with former Rye Councilwoman Julie Killian.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, of course, lives in the Westchester County town of New Castle.

Biryla To Lead NFIB In New York

Greg Biryla has been named the state director of the pro-business NFIB’s New York office, the organization will announce Monday.

“We are so pleased to have Greg lead our New York office because he brings top-notch advocacy skills and he has a deep knowledge of business-related legislation,” said NFIB’s Tim Goodrich, Executive Director of State Governmental Relations. “Our members can rest assured that someone with a history of business-related policy successes is leading the charge on their behalf in Albany.”

Biryla, currently the executive director of the Rochester-based Unshackle Upstate, will replace Mike Durant. He’s previously worked as a staffer for the state Assembly and Senate, as well as trade groups and business associations.

“It’s an honor to be named NFIB’s next state director in New York. Representing more than 10,000 hardworking members from Montauk to Lake Erie is a tremendous privilege. New York’s small and independent businesses help drive the state’s economy and provide countless men and women with jobs and opportunities,” Biryla said.

“As the husband of a small business owner, I understand the pride that comes with building a business from the ground up, staking your own course and placing a bet on yourself. I also know there are challenges. That perspective will guide my advocacy in Albany and across the state to ensure the voice of NFIB-NY is heard and the interests of small business are advanced.”

Will The Legislature Return? Maybe.

A day after lawmakers left Albany to end the 2018 legislative session, there’s talk of them potentially returning to take care of unfinished business, including a renewal of a program for speed cameras near schools in New York City.

“I think it would be an atrocity if the Senate doesn’t make sure that the speed cameras are renewed by September,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

The session drew to its scheduled close on Wednesday and supporters of bills that didn’t get done remain skeptical they will see any remaining action on them between now and the end of the year. The New York State United Teachers union wanted the passage of a bill delinking teacher evaluations from state examinations.

“They couldn’t get it done despite going until 2 o’clock in the morning. I don’t know what bringing them back does, but we’re optimistic that something can be done,” said Andy Pallotta, NYSUT president.

The issue is now likely to become a campaign one for the teachers union after the Senate approved a bill that reformed the evaluation process, but also boosted charter schools — a move the labor group opposes.

“The bill yesterday would have added 100 charters to New York State, really taking hundreds of millions of dollars from public schools. It’s a real betrayal of public schools,” said Pallotta.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb said lawmakers deserved a “C” grade for their handling of the session this year, saying needed changes to the state just didn’t happen.

“Because as long as we’re not moving on ethics reform, small businesses being helped, reducing the regulatory environment, mandate relief, those major topics are still at a standstill,” Brian Kolb, Assembly Minority leader (R) said.

It’s unlikely lawmakers would return early next week; several are running for Congress and federal primary elections will be held Tuesday.

Senate Votes To Return Tappan Zee To Mario Cuomo Bridge

The state Senate late Wednesday night approved a bill that would return the Tappan Zee name to the span connecting Westchester and Rockland counties at the Hudson River.

The bill would rename the current bridge to the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Tappan Zee Bridge — returning the name of the American Indians who lived in the area.

Lawmakers only a year ago backed legislation that named the replacement bridge after the late father of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, along with a park after Assemblyman Denny Farrell and a highway in honor of Sen. Bill Larkin.

The bridge being named for Mario Cuomo has nevertheless stirred controversy in the northern New York City suburbs, with some residents insisting the bridge should remain the Tappan Zee.

The bill would bring the bridge’s name back to where it had been for the last generation, when former Gov. Malcolm Wilson’s name was added to the previous bridge in 1994.

Several Democratic lawmakers in the Senate voted to support the bill including Tappan Zee in the name, including Sens. Tony Avella, David Carlucci, Leroy Comrie, Shelley Mayer, Velmanette Montgomery, Andrea Stewart-Cousins and David Valesky.